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Bleach Series 9 Part 1 Review

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Title: Bleach Series 9 Part 1

UK Distributor:  Kazé / Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  12

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £24.99

Episodes:  168-178 (ongoing series)

Audio Options:  English 2.0, Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Release Date:  25th June 2012

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


At the end of the previous volume of Bleach our heroes were in the Hollow world of Hueco Mundo, Ichigo had just fought a showstopping battle with the Espada Grimmjow and Orihime had escaped her confinement in the depths of Las Noches palace. However, the war was far from over. The other Espada were on the move, and Aizen was gearing up for his assault on Soul Society. Several of Ichigo's party had been severely wounded and some were in the midst of battle, whilst Ichigo himself had used up a large portion of his power. The scene was set for further deadly confrontation against impossible odds, so this volume promised to be explosive.

This volume starts with the surprise announcement in Soul Society that a new Captain has been appointed after passing the examination with flying colours. The new Captain, Shusuke Amagai, is to be assigned to Division 3 of the Court Guard Companies as a replacement for their traitorous former Captain Gin Ichimaru, and it's up to the division's Lieutenant Izuru Kira to help him settle in. However, Amagai isn't the only person to join, he also brings Makoto Kibune, one of his own men who is installed directly beneath Kira and quickly gains popularity with the rest of the division. Soon he starts to usurp the quiet and sullen Kira in the division's hierarchy, but there's a few things about these new appointments that don't add up. It's pretty much unheard of for an unknown to be made Captain, and despite Amagai's undoubted skill there are plenty of strange occurrences immediately following his appointment, including an assault by a horde of Menos on the edge of Soul Society. Where did he come from? And is Kibune just a talented officer whose natural ability is challenging Kira's position or is there something more sinister going on? There's mystery in the world of the living too, a richly dressed young girl and two attendants appear in Karakura from Soul Society and are immediately the target of a huge Hollow attack. Ichigo and Uryu fight to defend them but soon find that there's more to the new arrivals than meets the eye. The girl, Rurichiyo, is the heir of the Kasumioji Clan, one of the noblest families in Soul Society, and her attendants Kenryu and Enryu have brought her to Karakura to hide her from the power-hungry Gyokaku Kumoi, a clan elder who wants to usurp her. Kumoi will use any means to take over the family, from crushing dissenters to using forbidden weapons, and has a small army of assassins searching for the runaways. Ichigo, Uryu, Chad, Rukia and Orihime are soon drawn into the battle, but can they fight off a group of skilled assassins whilst simultaneously protecting a girl who has been kept in the dark about the true danger facing her?

You'll probably notice the lack of talk about Espadas or Hueco Mundo in the above synopsis, you'll probably also notice that Ichigo, Rukia, Chad, Orihime and Uryu are all magically back in Karakura and that Soul Society is busy trying to make a new captain feel at home rather than preparing for a devastating war against Aizen.  However, I have not picked up the wrong volume by mistake.  Bleach has decided to interrupt its current story arc in order to cover a completely unrelated new story.  Whilst it’s not unusual for a long-running series to insert original storylines in order to keep from catching up with the source manga, they usually have the good grace to wait until the end of a story arc or at least make up a side story which is related to it.  In this case however the writers have just dropped a new story slap bang in the middle of the current one.  There's no real lead in to it apart from a brief voice over to say we're going to see a new story, it's almost as if you're watching one of the Bleach films rather than episodes of the series.

So what of the new story?  I'm sure the word 'filler' fills many of those reading with the same sense of cold dread that it does me, but in fairness this new storyline is actually pretty good.  Earlier I likened the story to watching one of the films, and I'm not saying that just because its an unrelated story that doesn't follow the series continuity.  Like the films the new arc's storyline focuses on Soul Society and its structure and traditions, giving a wider view of what life is like in the feudal world of Bleach's afterlife.  Normally in the series the focus is strongly on Ichigo, his friends and the Soul Reaper Captains and Lieutenants but the films - and this arc - takes time to look at the struggles of the rank and file Soul Reapers and parts of Soul Society beyond the 13 Court Guard Companies.  The story of the Kasumioji family adds a degree of political intrigue previously absent from the series, providing an interesting contrast to the martial responsibilities and danger faced by the 3rd Division Soul Reapers.  Of the two plot strands the one revolving around Amagai is probably the most intriguing, as it shows more of the Soul Reapers below officer level and highlights their responsibilities and missions.  It's also great to see characters like Kira and Captain Kyoraku in more normal situations, not only does it give them more personality but it also serves to give the world of Soul Society more depth by showing that there's more to it than simply fighting hollows. 



 As always there are issues.  The jarring change of pace from the high-tension battles in Hueco Mundo to the intrigue of the Kasumioji succession and the comedy of Amagai's desperate attempts at acceptance is difficult to adjust to, and the time period the new storyline is supposedly set in is unclear.  The powers the characters use points to the story being set after the Aizen revolt, but there's no reference to the aftermath of the big battle which will undoubtedly have big knock-on effects for both Ichigo and Soul Society.  The main problem though is that the main storyline was getting really interesting.  We were close to finding out who the other Espada were and the extent of Aizen's power, and the series was building up to its biggest and most explosive confrontation to date.  The new stories are good, but there's a lingering feeling of being cheated out of what looked to be the most exciting and action-packed moments Bleach has to offer.  In truth it's just a pause, the rest of the story is coming but we'll just have to wait a couple of months for it.  Hey, at least we're not in Japan - these episodes were weekly there which meant that the 'pause' they had took nearly six months!

I must admit that I approached Bleach Series 9 Part 1 with trepidation after learning that a new filler story would be starting, but actually there's plenty to like here.  The dual story arcs are both interesting, and although I'm sure they'll merge later it's refreshing to see a main plot strand that concentrates on Soul Society itself rather than Ichigo and his friends.  The storylines are relatively straightforward, with one character aiming to gain acceptance from his peers and another trying to face both her rival and her destiny, but they are engaging and there's plenty of drama, intrigue and action to keep things moving along nicely.  The new characters are generally decent, with the silent Enryu providing some great comedy moments with his OTT reactions, but they are guilty of being a little underdeveloped at the moment.  Hopefully this is something part 2 will address.  Whilst it's disappointing that Bleach's main storyline has been interrupted at a critical stage, the new story arc that begins in this volume is pretty good and feels more like those featured in the Bleach films rather than the previous filler arcs.  Taken on its own merit this volume is pretty good and it's only a shame that they didn't fit it in either before or after the current story.

Extras

Kazé have taken over production duties from Manga so there's a fresh look for both the packaging and menus this time round.  There's a bit of a shakeup with the extras too, which sees them available directly from the main menu on disc 2.  This time there's just the clean opening and ending sequences, and surprisingly the bonus shorts that used to follow the end credits of each episode are absent.  They never really added much, but were a nice bonus and whether their absence is because they are no longer being made or simply because a decision has been made not to include them it's a little bit disappointing.

Ratings

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